We’ve discussed lately about the circuit of money in the hobby industry and the margins of each party involved, from publishers to distributors and to retailers. But there’s a lot more to be said about how the hobby industry is trying to get itself established as a relevant market. Today, let’s talk about Minimum Advertising Price, MAP in short.
What is MAP?
Publishers (or, in some cases, co-publishers) choose a retail price for their product, which they communicate to their distribution partners and the information flows down the supply chain to the final customer. All their discount structure will be based on this retail price (MSRP), and what you – the final customer – pays is (or, rather, should be) very close to that price. In reality, things work totally differently. You will find games with an MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) of $80 deeply discounted by online shops down to $20, and this is becoming more of a common practice in an ever larger, fast growing industry with an entry barrier eradicated by Kickstarter.
MAP (the acronym expands into “Minimum Advertised Price”) is a tool used by large publishers, with strong and respected presence in the hobby industry, to make sure that retailers do not deeply discount their titles. Asmodee, CMON Limited and Iello are some of the major players who adopted MAP policies and this is briefly how it works: retailers are only allowed to carry their products if the price they display on their website or in their shop is at most a percentage lower (usually 20%) than the MSRP.
What kind of dirty trick is that? Are they even allowed to do so? And how can they enforce it? Let’s go through them one by one…
Is MAP a good thing?
In my opinion the answer is definitely a YES.
In most cases, a MAP policy is introduced to protect brand value rather than increase margins. Obviously profit is important (that’s why it is a business and not a non-profit endeavour), but on the long run, profits will follow brand value and awareness rather that the opposite. Building a strong brand trumps (no pun intended) any other priorities for a big business because it ensures long term success.
With that in mind, how do you feel about a board game with an MSRP of $50 for which you get to pay $15 less a year after its original release (assuming you know nothing about that game)? Would you buy it? I probably would, but my expectations would be low. It happened to me with Moongha Invaders, a game by Martin Wallace – one of the most respected game designers – I got it for $15 at Gen Con last year. I had heard it was a good game, but it still sits on my shelf in shrink, most likely because I see it as a low value, second tier product. I preferred to open and play Scythe, a game for which I paid $100, because I paid $100!
You, as a customer, will probably feel cheated in a way, because you had the option to wait for a year after the release of a great Fantasy Flight Games title and buy it for half of its original $99.95 price. That is no longer an option. If you want the next big thing in a big box, with awesome minis, you will at best get it at $80, or settle for a second hand copy.
Now, I’m a gamer myself, so at first, I was outraged! But then, think about the newest Star Wars episode… you can go watch it when it premiers for a premium or at its regular price 1,2,3, 6 or 18 weeks later. OK, you might get to see it for a 20% discount on a Wednesday morning, but that’s that, it’s a 20% discount. Yet, we don’t complain about it, because Hollywood did not get us used to deep discounts.
Hobby industry is simply following a trend.
MAP is simply stating this: we believe we are making good games, if you believe the same and want our game, please pay the fair price.
How is MAP enforced?
Since I do not have the insights of the deals the big players are making, I can only speculate that distributors and retailers are getting on board and anyone who does not respect the policy will not get re-stock. It may not be as simple and straightforward as it sound, but it does work!
Take a look at titles by Asmodee at CoolStuffInc.com:
You can already see that Asmodee titles are not discounted more than 20%. Now, let’s take a look at one of Stonemaier’s games (a publisher I love and respect), who has not made anything but great games:
Everything is discounted more than 20%, and in my opinion for no good reason. Scythe, Between two Cities or Euphoria are great games and their MSRP is totally justified, especially for one who knows the effort needed to put such games on the market.
Although I am a gamer myself, I am also a publisher, so I may be biased about the whole MAP thing. This is why the only thing I can do is ask a simple question. Here t comes:
How do you feel about MAP?